Best-selling thriller author Lee Child says fans of his fictional hero Jack Reacher should suspend their anger at Tom Cruise having been cast as the tall and strapping man of action.
Cruise has been filming the first Reacher movie, One Shot, which is due for release in December and is based on the ninth book in British author Child's hugely successful series of novels.
After years of anticipation at seeing their hero on screen, devotees of Reacher - famously 6'5" with a 50-inch chest - were underwhelmed when 5'7" Cruise nabbed the part. So much so that there are online message boards and whole Facebook pages howling in protest, including one called Tom Cruise Is Not Jack Reacher.
The casting was not working
But speaking at Crimefest in Bristol, Lee Child (above, pictured right) told an audience that the star could well surprise them. In a humorous interview session with author/critic Peter Guttridge, he revealed that the film had been held up for a long time by problems in finding the right star to play Reacher.
"Inevitably, when you transfer a book to a movie you have to give up something," Child said. "But the casting was the delaying factor. It was not working."
Brad Pitt and George Clooney were said to have been among those in the running. "There were loads of actors pitching for it," Child said, "including one I won't name - Keanu Reeves."
Big, smart and ferocious - that's Reacher
The producers, with action specialist Don Granger chief among them, wanted a bankable star who could translate Reacher's three distinguishing characteristics to the screen - his forbidding stature, his intelligence and his ferocity.
In the end, Child said, they decided they were not going to get all three. But Cruise has notched up three Oscar nominations for his performances and has nailed the all-out action stuff in the Mission: Impossible films. So, it was felt he could do two of the three - be the smart operator and convince in the action scenes.
The author, who is 6'4", joked that he'd had nightmares that when he finally met Cruise, he would have to crouch down to shake his hand. In the end, however, everything went well - "He was a perfectly normal-sized guy," Child said.
One Shot script read-through was electric
When the first read-through of the script loomed, he added, "I was nervous about whether it would be good or bad. But it was amazing, like that Frankenstein moment, there was a jolt of electricity."
He was further encouraged by a performer of the calibre of Werner Herzog wanting to play the baddie in One Shot. Though he's better known as a director of movies such as Aguirre, Wrath of God, Herzog was "going to steal every scene", Child said. Also in the cast are Rosamund Pike, Robert Duvall and David Oyelowo.
"This is going to be a terrific Cruise thriller," Child said. "Fans of the book may think for the first five minutes, 'What the f***!' But after that they should enjoy it. We shall see."
Cameo for Lee Child
Child, who was born as Jim Grant in Coventry in 1954, was a Granada TV presentation director who worked on classic series such as Brideshead Revisited, Prime Suspect and Cracker. He famously turned the setback of his redundancy from the company at the age of 40 into stellar success by writing the immediately successful Reacher novel Killing Floor.
Now he will also enjoy a little stardom in front of the camera when One Shot is released. He revealed in Bristol that he has a cameo as the police desk sergeant in the film.
He says it is fantastic that so many people read his books and care so passionately about the hero he created, though he was taken aback that the passion boiled over with the casting controversy. Child's feeling is that the film won't spoil the books.
"I promise you two things," he said in Bristol. "I won't hold a gun to your head and force you to see the film. Second, Tom Cruise won't come to your house and steal your Reacher books."
If Cruise is a hit, however, there is already talk of Bad Luck and Trouble being the third in a franchise of movies, while Reacher 2 is still to be decided. Child admitted he is not keen on too many sequels. "I'll be happy if they make two or three," he said. "After that they can send me the rest on DVD."
And he made a promise. The casting of Cruise would not affect the way he portrayed Reacher in forthcoming books. He had already finished the next novel and was emphasising that Reacher was still a "gigantic guy".